Thursday, 30 September 2010 by David H. LeVan
During vacation last week I took the opportunity to go for an early morning swim in the pool. As I was swimming, there was a splash right behind me. When I turned to look I found myself staring at a rather large iguana. It was shocking to see an iguana in the pool (along with the broken branch on which he had previously been sitting while it was still attached to the tree above). Clearly, Mr. Iguana was equally shocked to be there. Turns out that Mr. Iguana could swim. Still, I wasn’t sure if the pool was the right place for him.
Earlier this year Gwinnett County, Georgia outsourced all of the commercial/industrial and business personal property accounts to two private firms. It was part of a larger effort on the part of the county to deal with significant financial strain. The following quote was in the Gwinnett Herald on December 30, 2009: “Today’s reduction in workforce follows the county’s overall plan to gain efficiencies and save money in back office departments that will allow us to focus resources on core mission areas such as public safety,” said County Administrator Glenn Stephens. “It’s unfortunate that departments have had to cut positions in order to create these cost savings, but the hard truth is that employees are our largest expense. Like all businesses right now, county government is facing unprecedented economic challenges that have forced us to make difficult decisions about service and staffing levels across the entire organization. However, I am certain that we will emerge from these times a stronger, leaner government.”
Understandably, this recession has affected all of us, including local governments! So don’t be surprised if you find that you are not dealing with a county employee on your business personal property return going forward. Will it affect the service level (positively or negatively)? What does it look like to add a “for-profit” motive to the assessment function? Will it create a more adversarial environment for taxpayers? Is the assessor’s office the right place for privatization? Or, is it an iguana in the pool?
Is this a good thing, bad thing, or just a thing? Add a comment and tell me know what you think. Heck, tell me know about your encounter with an iguana in the pool!
Topic: A Tax to Grind
Thursday, 23 September 2010 by David H. LeVan
Do I outsource the mowing of my lawn or keep it in-house? For the past several years my son has mowed our lawn and I have been the backup plan. After dropping him off at college a couple weeks ago I realized that some decisions had to be made regarding the future mowing of the yard (the grass was really high when we returned). Truth be told, I actually like to mow. It’s a relaxing diversion from the rest of the week. However, the change in personnel at the LeVan household prompted me to take a deeper look at the outsourcing option.
What are all the costs involved with mowing the yard internally? At first this seems rather elementary… cost of gas, cost of grass disposal, etc. But what about the cost of the equipment, which of course is a John Deere riding mower because we all know nothing rides like a Deere. And what about the upkeep costs for that equipment – the annual maintenance, blade sharpening, etc.? And what about the opportunity costs of using the time (which in this case is about 1.5- 2.0 hours per week) for mowing vs. other things that are important to us (we do like to travel and spend time with family)?
On the flip side, many of our neighbors use a lawn service that from all appearances seems to be very efficient. Their equipment is even more cutting edge than my Deere and they finish a yard with amazing speed and accuracy. Further, they do a really good job of trimming (that’s the part of the job that I don’t like to do). The mowing service seems to have reasonable prices but how does that compare with my own internal costs…… and how do my goals and opportunity costs fit into the picture? It’s probably worthwhile to compare the two options.How often do you compare the two options when it comes to property tax compliance? Have you ever done the comparison? What value might come from looking at the outsourcing option if you are currently doing property tax compliance in-house? What value might come from looking at the in-house option if you are currently outsourcing your property tax compliance? What are the actual costs of each option (including those not so obvious costs)? What are the opportunity costs?
Now that I’m thinking about it, I better start considering who’s going to snow blow my driveway. Chicago winters can be brutal and it’s a really long driveway!
If you need assistance in comparing your compliance options, please send me an email and I’ll be happy to provide you with a comparative cost worksheet that will provide as a good starting point. Hey, the first steps are looking at the costs!
Thursday, 16 September 2010 by David H. LeVan
“Watch out for cougars when you go running tomorrow morning” said a friend after I told him I was going for a run in the foothills east of Los Angeles. I’m pretty sure he was talking about the catlike animal. Anyway, he told me to act big and aggressive if I encountered a cougar during the run. So the whole time I’m fixated on being attacked by the cougar while running in the foothills (and what’s the most effective way to act big and aggressive anyway).
After several miles in the “wild” I came back to the subdivision not far from my hotel and the fear of being attacked by a cougar subsided. As I rounded a corner in the subdivision I saw what I thought was a dog, creeping down the hill in front of me. The dog turned out to be a bear (a very big bear) and with the trajectory of our paths, we ended up directly across the street from one another. Even though I know you’re not supposed to run from a bear, I did (only looking back twice to make sure it wasn’t chasing me). The thought of playing dead crossed my highly distressed mind but, for whatever reason, playing dead on the road didn’t seem safe. During the course of my run I was totally focused on defending myself against the cougar but never contemplated meeting a bear.
It seems to me that the same thing happens in the management of property taxes. Tax departments place tremendous focus on not missing filing dates and payment due dates. In fact, that is how many of them are graded by their companies. This isn’t a bad thing. It’s important to prepare yourself against the potential of meeting up with a cougar, the negative results of missing deadlines. In the PropTax Assessment, 75% of respondents said that they” anticipate and plan for critical due dates” all the time. That’s 75% being prepared in case the cougar encounters.
What about the bear? Let’s call the bear property tax savings left on the table. In the PropTax Assessment, only 25% of respondents said that they “consistently make proactive adjustments” for obsolete assets and only 12% of respondents said that they “consistently and effectively apply the three forms of depreciation” all the time. In fact, in most questions involving ways to appropriately adjust values and save property taxes the responses were alarmingly low. Very similar to my run the focus is on the cougar of deadlines while the bear of missed property tax savings might be creeping just around the corner.